Now that the festive period has come to an end and Santa has rewarded us with a post-Christmas present of sub-zero temperatures and rain (well, in England he most definitely has), it is that time of year again, when travellers around the globe begin to fantasize about what their next year of travel plans may bring.
How else are we expected to survive the struggle of the working world?
Unfortunately, this year is going to be a quiet one for me. But all for good reason… I will be embarking on the big Gap Year take two in December (check out my ‘What’s Next?’ page for more details), so need to save every single penny I can scrape together until then.
However, for all of you fortunate travellers who are on the look out for a dose of culture, fun and sunshine, I’ve teamed up with Felicity from Holiday Lettings to suggest some incredible and diverse places you can go, to warm up during this winter chill.
So, whilst you guys are enjoying the sunshine, think of poor me, at my desk, daydreaming of sipping on margaritas and sunning myself on a beach… in Mexico… whilst being fanned by hunky men… and stuffing my face with fajitas… oh how the mind wonders…
Gran Canaria, Spain
A continent in miniature, Gran Canaria offers verdant rolling hills, stark desert terrain and a dramatic coastline. Neon seaside resorts mingle effortlessly with quaint white-washed houses and cobbled alleyways in inland hamlets. The only thing more dazzling than the island’s sunshine is its variety.
You can jump on a camel at La Baranda Safari Park and ride through verdant groves of citrus trees, avocados and palms. Saunter through the historic streets of Las Palmas and visit the house Christopher Columbus reputedly lodged in on his 1492 Atlantic voyage. Immerse yourself in scuba diving or treat yourself to a luxurious seawater treatment at the Thalassotherapy Centre.
Key West, USA
Colourful Caribbean-style streets, divine sunsets and delectable key lime pie: this is a gorgeous tropical island. It mixes up mansions with ornate woodwork and pretty cigar-makers’ cottages, many covered in rambling moonflowers that only blossom by night.
Tread softly among the luxuriant palms and delicate orchids at local artist Nancy Forrester’s nearby Secret Garden and hear the chatter of her rescued macaws and parrots. Tour Ernest Hemingway’s beautiful Spanish colonial villa, see the typewriter he composed masterpieces on and meet the descendants of his six-toed cat. Or pay a visit to spooky Robert the Doll at Fort East Martello Museum, the ‘haunted’ 19th-century toy who inspired Chucky from the Child’s Play films.
Ko Samui, Thailand
This is the island idyll that makes Instagram images look shabby. There are crystal beaches brightened by azure waters and shaded by gently swaying coconut groves. The island blooms with lush tropical gardens, serves up steaming snacks from street food stalls and hides elaborate Buddhist temples up unexpected narrow alleyways. It’s just a pleasure to explore.
Why not take a boat round the Ang Thong National Marine Park and absorb the scenery that inspired The Beach? Or head to the Nam Tok Na Muang fall, watch the water tumble over heather-coloured rocks and dive into the pool at the bottom. Venture to Wat Phra Yai, a 15m-tall Buddha statue set on a little rugged outcrop and powerfully silhouetted against the tropical sea and sky.
Dubai is all about excess – it’s home to the richest horse race, the biggest man-made islands, the largest shopping festival and the biggest mall. Yes, it’s a stunning spot for sun, sand and shopping. But it’s also fascinating to take in this futuristic cityscape in the making, bordered by glittering ocean waves and infinite desert dunes. This is a city without limits.
Reach for the sky from the observation deck at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Shop till you drop at over 1,200 stores in Dubai Mall and find out more about the area’s history and traditions at the Dubai Museum. Then get lost in the maze of charming streets in the traditional Bastakiya district or drift down the vibrant alley dubbed Hindi Lane.
Soak up the sun alongside the iguanas and admire the exotic flowers as they add a dash of orange-red colour to the city’s vibrant plazas. Cool down with a refreshing margarita at a chilled beach-side bar as another sultry night falls; you can see the moon illuminate the white sand and reflect in the calm surface of the water.
Make the most of this special environment. You can roam the archaeological site of San Miguelito and admire Mayan structures, from imposing palaces to the 8m-tall Gran Piramide (Grand Pyramid) dating from 1250. Go for a dip at Playa Langosta beach where the sand is coral-coloured and the waters are perfect for snorkelling. Or explore the nearby Crococun Zoo, a former crocodile farm turned conservation centre, and pet the spider monkeys.